Careers of NZ politicians 2014

Geoffrey Miller and I have put together an analysis of the pre-Parliament careers of MPs in the current Parliament.

We found remarkably few differences between the working careers of New Zealand politicians – ie. their careers don’t define their political allegiances.

And we found that around 30% of them have always worked in jobs related to politics.

Geoffrey Miller, who works at Otago University, reviewed the official biographies of Members of Parliament sitting in July 2014. He categorised the careers and work history of MPs prior to, and including, entering Parliament. 

The aim was to look for commonalities and patterns in the working history of MPs before they entered Parliament. We were particularly interested in whether there were differences between work experience within political parties, and between MPs and the general public.

Our assumption is that work experience and careers reflect the interests of the MP, and influence their decision-making and attitudes as MPs.

The main finding of this study is that no party has a career path which is dominant. Whether left wing or right wing, MPs in New Zealand’s political parties come largely from similar work history – professional employment in office work, requiring university education.  However, only 40% of New Zealanders have university qualifications.

The single biggest career across all parties is government. Fully 15% of MPs have worked as civil servants, parliamentary staffers, or in local government roles. If the government category is widened to encompass any politically related career, almost a third of MPs have worked in politics in some form before they entered Parliament. This excludes teaching.

A similar study was conducted by Mark Blackham in 2011. It found that National had more MPs with business and farming backgrounds. Labour had more MPs with education and union backgrounds. Common between all parties was that one fifth had careers almost solely in the sphere of government (government agencies, politics, advocacy groups). 


120 MPs were categorised (John Banks’ resignation means he was not included).

Careers were categorised by industry, sector and profession. We attempted to keep the categories similar to the previous study, and sufficiently broad to draw conclusions and make comparisons.

A main career was identified for each MP. We selected the profession, trade or sector which dominated their pre-parliament work experience.  The categorisation is subjective. MPs may differ with our conclusion about their work history. To reduce variation in selection we used the above rules, and monitored between us.

Some MPs have had several very different careers. These MPs were classified as “multiple”.

Main findings

  1. National MPs have had the broadest range of work experience. This was partly a by-product of having the most number of MPs, but was consistent when considered proportionately.
  2. No single career path is dominant to a statistically significant degree, in any party.

Differences between parties:

  1. National MPS  had the most experience in Agriculture and Business or Property Development with 12 MPs in each category
  2. Politics and education are the two main employment categories of Labour MPs.
  3. National is stronger on health backgrounds than Labour (6 MPs vs 3), and in legal experience (6 MPs vs 2). Labour’s two lawyers (David Parker and Raymond Huo) have both had prominent secondary careers.
  4. NZ First party has proportionately the most MPs with business backgrounds, especially small business (3 from 7 MPs).
  5. The dominant working history of Green Party MPs is in unions or activist agencies (6 MPs).
  6. Work experience only in government is the single most common career – right across all parties. 15% of MPs have worked as a civil servant, parliamentary staffer, or in local government. 11% have only ever worked in this category.
  7. 33% of MPs have worked in a career which could be seen as political before entering Parliament.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s